by Betty L. Martin
HOUSTON, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- An unusually ice storm hit the normally mild-to-hot city of Houston, Texas early this week, bringing chill-to-the-bone weather and forcing residents to deal with the ice-covered cars and roads and shut down the city government and schools.
The temperature plummeted from the mid-16 degree celsius to minus seven degree celsius and lower after the ice storm hit the city.
"We also had a wind-chill factor that made it seem even colder," said Michael Walter, the public information officer at the city's Office of Emergency Management.
The government advised residents to stay indoors if possible and released a pre-storm overlay of major thoroughfares and bridges with salt, as many drivers found it hard to deal with a sudden situation of the unusual freezing weather.
There was significant upticks in motor vehicle accidents after the storm, with over 400 accidents reported in half a day, mostly related to ice on the highways, Walter said, adding that the day before ice hit, the police responded to a little over 100 traffic accidents.
Some government offices for public service, such as parks, libraries, museums and municipal courts were closed for a day due to the ice storm.And the safety services such as police and fire departments were open and on alert.
Some city employees started their work earlier than before to help neutralize potential damages.
The Houston Independent School District(HISD), the city's largest school district, and 15 other surrounding school districts closed their doors last Friday and Tuesday after temperatures fell.
"The safety of our students and their families is always our top priority," said Holly Huffman, HISD's manager of principal and school communications.
Marianne Chase, a first-grade teacher with HISD, said she was not excited about having the day off.
"We just have to make up the days later in the school year," Chase said.
Huffman agreed that the days would be added to the school's calendar approved by the Texas Board of Education.
"The last time we had to cancel school because of winter weather was Feb. 4, 2011 - also for an ice storm," Huffman said.
Magnesium chloride were used on the roads before and after the freezing weather and the government encouraged residents in a pamphlet to take care of "the four p's: pipes, pets, plants and people".
"We tell people to insulate their pipes with commercially available pipe insulators, to cover plants, to keep their pets inside or in a warm environment, and we tell them to stay inside if possible and to always make sure their heaters are functioning well," Walter said.
The city and its police outreach program also worked with local charities and shelters to help homeless people get off the streets and to a safe place to stay overnight during cold weather.